What in the world is going on at the NLRB?

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Amid all the recriminations of the past weeks – furious letters and demands for documents from House Democrats and Republicans -- it is easy to lose sight of what’s really going on. Two major disputes are at the heart of recent events at the NLRB, and both reveal the GOP’s cavalier disregard for fundamental labor rights – rights that are taken for granted in almost every other developed democracy in the world.

First there is the Board’s attempt to streamline the union certification process to get rid of the worst case of election delay. If Hayes resigns, the Board will lack a quorum for a final vote on the rule scheduled for November 30. Republicans have claimed, somewhat incredulously, that the election rule would “cripple American workers' free choice." In reality, the rule is designed to do precisely the opposite – cripple the ability of employers to undermine workers’ free choice through the use of dilatory tactics.

Republicans claim that doesn’t happen, but consider the advice of one of the largest management-side law firms in the country: “An employer should consider [a hearing of some length] an opportunity for the heat of the union's message to chill prior to the election.” In other words, employers do use delay to undermine employee choice. It is a significant problem, and the NLRB’s election rule is not only justified, but also long overdue.

Second, there is the NLRB’s proposal requiring that employers post notices informing employees of their workplace rights. Last week House Republicans joined in lawsuits filed by the National Association of Manufacturers, Chamber of Commerce, and National Right to Work Foundation to block the “intrusive” rule, stating that the current NLRB “must be stopped.”  Like the election rule, the notice-posting reasonable rule is designed to remedy a significant problem. Most employees are unaware of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, but the GOP and employers groups appear determined to keep it that way.

Hill Republicans deserve full credit for unmitigated gall: we are to believe they want to ensure that employers can mount lengthy anti-union campaigns and that they oppose informing workers of their rights all in the name of employee free choice. And now Member Hayes is rendering the Board inoperable for the same noble cause.

In reality, the GOP attacks on the NLRB, and Hayes’ resignation threat have everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with law (and even less to do with fairness). The election and notice-posting rules are moderate measures that would have, at most, a slight impact on labor rights. But for Hill Republicans -- who at best believe that labor rights do not matter and at worst want to eliminate them -- the NLRB has become a convenient symbol for attacking the Obama Administration’s “job-killing regulatory agenda.”

But political symbols are important. When the Board has been reduced to a shell, the GOP may ultimately regret not having the “out of control” NLRB to bash for the next 12 months.

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.